Welcome to Part three, where I continue my discussion of Man of Steel and begin talking about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The Past, Present & Future of the DC Cinematic Universe
So, after giving it a lot of thought, I have decided to jump into the world of video blogging.
The video blogs will not be straight up reviews. Instead they will be more analysis. I will be using them to explore things going on in the industry of film, as well as look at popular film series and explore them.
The first video for the Tripping Through Gateways blog turned into a series. I did not realize as I was writing it just how long it was going to be. So I broke it down into seven parts. Part one actually explores the landscape preceding Man of Steel. This is the only video in the series to deal extensively with the Marvel Movies in any form of contrast, and it mainly for the purpose of exploring DC and Warner Brother’s progress with their shared film universe.
However, as I state in the video, this is not about Marvel vs DC. This is not a proclamation on who is better. I enjoy the characters from both Marvel and DC. And I want to see DC have real success. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Matter Eater Lad deserve that much.
Shazam! art by Doc Shaner
New Gods art by Jack Kirby
Ultimates art by Bryan Hitch
Marvel and it’s related characters are copyright © Marvel Entertainment
DC and it’s related characters are © Warner Brothers.
Social Justice Warriors (Justice League, 2017)
When it comes to the movies? DC has been struggling to keep up with Marvel. Part of this is really that DC did not lay out a plan from the start. While Marvel Released films with an aim toward the Avengers, DC was trying to figure out where to start. The Nolan Batman films were a critical success, but also very much their own universe. When they made Green Lantern, most attempts to build a larger never made it out of the script.
There was talk for several years starting off the DC Movie Universe with a Justice League film to be be directed by George Miller. This never came to pass, and when Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan began their work on Man of Steel it was decided this could be the start. They did not do a ton, only lightly seeding references to a larger DC Cinematic Universe.
DC decided on following up Man of Steel not with Wonder Woman or Batman, but Batman V Superman. Like Man of Steel, the reaction was mixed. I am not a real big fan of either film, primarily because I feel like they are doing a rush job. The films try and tackle big notions….but they have not earned it. Suicide Squad followed (troubling that we are meeting villains before the connected heroes). I did not mind Suicide Squad, I found it generally entertaining…but not as solid as Deadpool (whose success they were clearly aiming for).
The DC Cinematic Universe was desperate for an outright hit. Luckily, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot delivered that with last summer’s Wonder Woman. And so, for me, I had a little bit of hope they might look at this success and decide to use it as a template to right the ship. Earlier this year, Zack Snyder announced he was stepping down for family reasons (His family was dealing with a tragic suicide of one of his children). It was announced that former Marvel architect Joss Whedon was brought in. Whedon punched up the film with new dialog and reshoots. And what is the end result?
Superman is still dead. The world is in chaos. Bruce Wayne is actively trying to bring a team together to protect the world from the larger threats. The threat here is from Steppenwolf…he came to earth once before in an attempt to destroy the planet, but was fought off by the Amazons, Atlanteans and human kind. His weapon, three items call Mother Boxes were split among the three groups and hidden away.
Batman also has a plan to bring Superman back, which Wonder Woman is uncomfortable with, but finally agrees to. And so, the team unites and takes on Steppenwolf.
So….is this redemption for DC? Is this the second most awesome DC Cinematic Universe flick? The answer is “Yes”. Buuuuuut….
Okay, so, the film opens with a nice little video, kids talking to Superman with there cell phone right after he has saved some people. And then we get Batman stopping a petty crook, except that it is a ruse to catch a creature called a para-demon. The thief asks Batman if things are getting worse because they know Superman is dead. This is followed by the film showing the world falling into despair, set to a haunted version of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows. This is all quite nice.
We also get a rather fun action sequence with Wonder Woman stopping a terror group. This really is not a plot enhancing moment. It is just a lot of fun to watch. And the film has a lot of these. There is a lot of fun action moments. Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa clearly are having more fun than Ben Affleck. Barry Allen has the same backstory of the the TV show (Dad in prison for murder of mom)…this is fine of course. But it is not a storyline that really leads anywhere. I like the general characterization here though. Barry is awkward with people in part because how time feels for him. Admittedly, this is very similar to the comic book version of Marvel’s Quicksilver in which time moves so slow for him, he describes every minute of every day as being like waiting in line at the DMV. Except, instead of being a jerk, Barry just struggles to slow down his thinking enough to not sound like he has severe ADD.
Aquaman has always been a sore spot of a character for DC. He tends to get mocked endlessly for being able to “talk to fish”. Here the film compensates a bit by making him a tough and jovial guy. At one point he looks to Batman, smirks and says, “Dressed as a bat, I dig it.”
Cyborg is in kind of a thankless role. He fills in the technology blanks. Ray Fischer is really likable in the role. It just is that he feels like things just happen randomly to him. At one point, his suit takes over and starts shooting at the newly resurrected Superman. The idea that the mechanics are in control in such a fashion is interesting, but we do not really get an indication earlier that the mechanical part can go rogue, beyond it apparently making regular upgrades.
Gadot is spot on in her Wonder Woman boots. The character is again a high point. Digital mustache issues aside, Cavill is finally getting to be a Superman who likes himself. Superman seems to be more earthling than Kryptonian here. And this is something that corrects the previous two films. I understand the arguments about Superman and a connection for people who fall into the category of “Other”. But Superman’s other status in the films were relegated to him acting like a life he never had was more his identity than the planet on which he grew up. There are ways to portray the identity of “Other” without sacrificing important parts of the Superman mythos. In this film, he no longer speaks about “on my planet”. No, Earth is his home. Lois is his home. Martha Kent is his home.
The action is pretty solid. And the humor is there. The film has bright colors! So, why did I add a “buuuuuuuuut”?
At one point, Aquaman says to the Flash, “So you were struck by lightning?” Flash responds “Yeah, well that is the condensed version.” And that is how the movie feels. Apparently there was a mandate to keep the film at about two hours. And boy is that apparent.
So many scenes feel cut short, so many conversations feel truncated. At times, the film moves at “fan montage Youtube video” fast. We get brief glimpses of characters we want more of…and admittedly, Commissioner Gordon and Lois Lane will probably be far more prominent in the Batman and Superman follow-ups.
And then there is Steppenwolf. A rather uninteresting character. Remember Ronin from the first Guardians of the Galaxy? Steppenwolf has the same goal…but without the nuance. The film is incredibly unclear about why this is…but it also does not hint at the notion there is someone behind Steppenwolf. He is a remarkably boring villain. And when you compare unfavorable to a weaker Marvel movie villain? That has to hurt.
So, what we are left with is a film that is better than Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad…but nowhere near as strong as Wonder Woman. But that said? I had a lot of fun watching Justice League.
The Danger of Deadpool’s Victory
So, since the last time I talked about Deadpool, I was proven very wrong. Deadpool was a hit with critics and audiences, receiving a lot of praise. There are people who did not care for it, but the movie broke records nobody expected.
I am happy to be wrong here. I am glad it has succeeded. And I think there is room for both family friendly super hero films and ‘R-Rated’ super-hero films.
On Twitter a week or so back, I got involved briefly in a discussion that was inspired by a tweet that stated that “Nothing Good Can Come From Deadpool’s Success.” I took the opposite side, arguing I do not think it means all super-hero films are suddenly going to go hard ‘R’.
Then in a couple days time, we saw announcements of the next Wolverine film will be ‘R’ and there will be an ‘R’ rated “super cut” of Superman vs Batman. And I do get the concern, though I am not ready to admit defeat. The Wolverine is not surprising, and they have skirted the violence of the character for over a decade.
Going back to X-2 we were being given pitches that we were about to see the Wolverine the last film did not deliver. We got a more violent cut of the second Wolverine film. At best, the success of Deadpool let them know that the ‘R’ is not the kiss of death.
In regards to Superman and Batman…Warner Brothers has always seen dark and gritty as the key to success. When Superman Returns did not succeed quite as big as the WB had hoped? They cited that it was not Dark Enough. When the Dark Knight succeeded they felt vindicated and even suggested that this is how they would fix Superman. When Green Lantern failed Warner Brothers blamed the film for not being dark enough.
Yet Man of Steel was dark and grim. And it seems the DC Universe was already on this path, well before Deadpool.
What is sad, is there is a lesson to be learned from Deadpool’s success. Deadpool was not a dark and grim take on super-heroes. It was a fun and bizarre ride. It had dark humor, and lot of it. But it was funny and intentionally so. The creators (from the writers to the director to the stars on) got the character. They knew and were faithful to their source.
Deadpool proves taking a big risk is worth doing. Films that know who they are? They are what studios should take a chance on. Truth their creatives, don’t micro manage. Letting the creators be free often produces positive results. Micro-Managing everything gives us studio vision and less interesting films.